The complete guide to corporate travel policies

Download icon Get the guide

How to Automate Your Travel Policy

Woman checking phone for travel
Image:  Daria Nepriakhina

In a few articles in this guide, we’ve talked about travel approval and how you can make life easier for everyone by automating it.

Let’s dive a little deeper into how travel approval typically takes place, and why you should consider making this process automated. 

Firstly, do your colleagues understand your travel policy and the booking guidelines? 

If your travel policy lives inside a document, inside a wiki page, inside an intranet, or on a printed page on a wall of the office, then chances are, no one is reading it. 

Travel policy documents are great for things like traveler safety and meal reimbursement policies, but not for booking travel. 

In this post, we’ll be talking about:

  • Why you should automate the travel policy
  • What elements of your policy can be automated
  • What an automated travel policy looks like
  • How this can automate trip approval

Why should you automate your travel policy?

There are so many benefits to automating your policy:

  • Reduce confusion
  • Immediacy (the policy is right there when employees actually need it)
  • Much higher levels of travel policy compliance

Of course, perfect compliance isn’t possible. There will always be last-minute trips that cost more than your guidelines for that destination or route. But when automating their policy, our customers report an average compliance rate of 95%.

If travelers hate your tool, or if it doesn’t provide the vendors and options that they want, they might book outside of it, rendering your policy useless.

so that whenever someone in your company is booking travel, your policy is right there helping them make their booking decisions. 

What are the problems with only having a written travel policy?

Employees are supposed to read the policies.

What if they don’t read them? What if they read them and forget what they read? What if they read them and choose to ignore them simply because they don’t like them?

Unsurprisingly, 50% of business travelers admit that they don’t always follow their travel policy. The chief reasons for this are convenience and price. Meaning, their approved travel tool doesn’t offer the flight or hotel options that suit their schedule—or not at prices that the traveler finds reasonable. They decide to break with policy and book on consumer websites.

In another survey, 64% of millennial travelers admit that even though they understand their travel policy, they still choose to book outside of it. 

When employees are searching for Hotels in London, a travel policy document can’t clarify which options are in or out of policy. But an automated policy can—and right inside where they’re searching and booking.

What elements of your travel policy can you automate?

Typically, automatic travel policies cover the following:

  • Where to book travel
  • What flight classes are allowed
  • How much to spend on a flight for a certain route
  • How much to spend on a hotel in a specific city
  • What car rental classes are allowed
  • The expenses process

Historically, travel policies have always lived inside of an HR packet or in an internal wiki. By automating these elements and restricting what employees can book, you are saving your company money and ensuring travel is fair among employees.

Can automated travel policies control what travelers book?

An automated travel policy is far more powerful than a piece of paper when it comes to controlling what travelers book.

Even still, automated policies aren’t completely immune to the issues of their document predecessors.

Automated policies only work inside of the travel tool. If travelers decide they don’t like using your tool for whatever reason, then they might end up booking on a consumer website—meaning you forfeit management control as well as the financial side of things like easy invoicing

What does an automated travel policy look like?

An automated travel policy lives inside of your business travel tool so that whenever employees use it to book travel, they can see what options are inside of policy and outside of policy. 

If employees need to book a flight, hotel, car, or train outside of company policy, they can use the tool to send a request for approval to their administrator. There’s no need to write a long, detailed email. When using the tool, all of the details about the trip that the employee wants to book will be right there for the administrator to review. 

This means you can automate your booking approval

Travel approval is typically handled manually and on an individual basis via phone, email, or in person. The traveler might have to do a lot of back-and-forth emails and phone calls to come to a final trip itinerary with whoever is booking that trip, such as a travel agent or office manager.

In other words, the trip itself has been pre-approved but getting the final approval for the actual cost can be time-consuming.

When you have automated travel policies in place, you make it so that travelers (or admins booking for travelers) can complete the booking as soon as they find something that falls within policy. No need for an approval process.

This eliminates…

  • Back-and-forth phone calls and emails between the traveler and the booker
  • Micromanaging and control over the booking process (since the rules are already pre-set)
  • Missing out on great prices when the person booking doesn’t get approval fast enough

Approval would still be required for trips with special needs or bookings that are out of policy for good reason. However, in most tools the manager/admin can simply view the request and approve it in the platform, automatically purchasing the trip.

How to increase your chances for success

This much is clear: your automated travel policy is only as powerful as the tool that it’s inside of. If travelers hate your tool, or if it doesn’t provide the vendors and options that they want, they might book outside of it, rendering your policy useless.

The following criteria isn’t exhaustive—your finance team might have their own list of what they need in travel management software—but here’s what you need in a travel tool if you plan to automate your policy:

  • Stellar reviews from travelers (not just travel managers and finance peeps)
  • Every possible travel option, including everything you can find online and all of the lower cost vendors that employees tend to book with to save their company money
  • Really high quality 24/7 travel support that the traveler won’t want to sacrifice

Choosing a tool that travelers actually want to use is paramount to the success of your automated policy. 

Strict, moderate, and lax policies

Automated travel policies don’t have to control employee’s booking decisions if you don’t want them to. 

You can set up your travel tool with your policy, but still allow travelers to book outside of it. Here are all of the options you have:

  • Strict – Employees need to request approval for every trip before booking it (or an administrator must book it for them after they’ve selected their options).
  • Moderate – Employees only need to request approval in order to book trips that are outside of policy.
  • Relaxed – Employees don’t need to request approval for anything. They can book what they feel they need.

Make sure to choose a tool that lets you have different options for different groups of travelers. For example, c-suite executives and their personal assistants will likely need the power to book what they want, whenever. Account executives for top-tier clients might need the same capability. 

Setting specific approval processes for individual travelers or teams helps you create an automated policy that reflects reality. 

How to set up an automated travel policy 

Now it’s time to customize the policy in your business travel app so that it matches your company. 

  1. Agree on your travel policy guidelines – Before you set up a tool, make sure the CFO, travel manager, and other stakeholders are in agreement with your policy. You can grab our guide to policy guidelines if you’re unsure. 
  2. Choose a tool travelers will want to use – If travelers don’t love using your approved tool, then your automated policy will be completely ineffective. They’ll ditch your tool, leaving the in-app policy behind. 
  3. Set your flight guidelines – Set global maximums, specific route maximums, cabin classes, and advance booking requirements.
  4. Set your hotel guidelines – Global maximums, specific destination maximums, star ratings, and advance booking requirements.
  5. Set your train and car guidelines – Set advance booking and global budgets.
  6. Create special policies for certain groups of travelers if needed – Maybe certain groups need to be treated differently. For example, the sales or engineering teams might have higher global maximums because they have to book more last-minute trips. 
  7. Setup the approval process by team or department – When you create traveler groups by team or department, the right person is sent a request for trip approval. You can also set your policy so that only certain groups don’t have to ask for approval. 

Setting up your tool should be easy. The harder part might be agreeing upon route and destination maximums with your team. 

The good news is that when you consolidate business travel spend to a single tool, you’re able to collect real travel data that can help make your policy more accurate. 

The best thing you can do is to get started with an automated policy and consolidated booking. Then you can review your company travel data quarterly or yearly to make tweaks to your policy guidelines based on real company data.